Sunday, September 2, 2012

PB & J Pancakes

One of my favorite parts about Sundays is our family brunch time. Sometimes we go out to eat, but most of the time we stay home. I tried out a new recipe today, and the whole family agreed it was like we were at a restaurant. These PB & J Pancakes just might give IHOP a run for their money.

I had this recipe in my New Recipes to Try File. I can't remember where I saw it posted, but the credits on the recipe say it's from Sunny Anderson @ Food Network. I love PB & J anything, so this recipe caught my eye.  This seemed like the right weekend to give it a whirl. 

I had a bag of blackberries in the freezer that I stumbled across when I put a few things away last week.  I typically will flash freeze blackberries and raspberries when they go on sale for $1 a pint at the grocery store. I'm so glad I have a few more bags stashed away in the freezer, because this recipe is definitely going to be making a repeat occurrence on our Sunday Brunch menu rotation.

The pancakes were very light and fluffy, and they taste almost like a fluffy peanut butter cookie. The syrup came together in just a few minutes and was definitely the star of the show. The sweet and tart on top of the peanut butter pancake was simply divine. I had a third pancake; I usually try to limit myself to just 2 pancakes. They were that good! I decided to just take an extra long walk tonight! 

Here's the recipe:

PB & J Pancakes

For the Pancakes:
1 cup flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 cup + 2 Tbsp milk, plus extra to thin if needed
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, melted (I used Skippy Natural)
2 Tbsp oil

1. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
2. Combine the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.
3. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until a smooth batter forms, adding more milk if needed.
4. Cook over medium high heat on a well greased griddle.

For the Syrup
1 pint blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp corn starch
3/4 cup water
1 Tbsp lemon juice

1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.
2. Bring mixture to a boil and boil for about 2 minutes until it starts to thicken.

(I made the syrup first and then let it cool and thicken slightly while I made the pancakes)

What a scrumptious way to enjoy PB & J
Just add a tall glass of cold milk. . .
What's your favorite pancake flavor?

Simple Sweet Salad Dressing

I am part of the Hospitality and Staff Appreciation Committees at my middle daughter's elementary school. To show our appreciation to our staff, we (PTO) provide lunch for them once a month. The staff seems to really love this monthly opportunity to gather together and enjoy lunch. Several of the teachers commented that the lunch is so much more than just good food. It's a chance for them to visit and build community. They go back to their classrooms with full bellies and refreshed spirits. It's my pleasure to be able to give them this gift on a monthly basis.

We had our first lunch of the school year this past Friday. We had a Sandwich Bar with chicken salad and a ham and cheese plate with mini croissants and bakery breads. We asked for parent donations for desserts, chips, pop, and water.

I made a large simple greens tossed salad with this Simple Sweet Salad Dressing to go with lunch for the day. My salad had green leaf lettuce, red bibb lettuce, a few handfuls of broccoli slaw, sliced carrots, garden fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers. The broccoli slaw gives the salad a nice crunch and texture without adding too many new flavors into the salad. 

The recipe originally came from my Mother in Law who got the recipe from her high school home economics class. I love this recipe because it's so easy to put together. It has just 4 ingredients, and I almost always have all four ingredients on hand in my pantry.  The dressing is light, slightly sweet, and is the perfect accompaniment to a bed of simple greens.  It's amazing how this dressing can make a bed of leaf lettuces taste like something you might pay a lot of money for at Panera or another cafe.  The dressing will keep in the frig for a week or two.

Here's the recipe:

Simple Sweet Salad Dressing
3 Tbsp cider vinegar
3 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients together in a jar with a tight lid. Shake until well blended. Serve over your favorite salad greens.

What's your favorite homemade salad dressing recipe?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summer Harvest Crock Pot Dinner

With the girls back in school and the start up of our extra curricular activities, it's time to get back into the routine of using the crock pot on a weekly basis. It looks like Wednesdays are going to be our Crock Pot Night. We have to eat in shifts because my middle one has gymnastics over the traditional dinner hour. Having a meal ready in the crock pot means she can eat a bit more heartily when she comes home from school before she leaves for gymnastics, and the meal can wait on the warm function until the other four of us are ready to sit down around the table.

A friend recently shared some of his garden harvest with us, and this Crock Pot Dinner was a great way to use some of the produce (potatoes, onions, beans) he had shared with us. We actually had this meal a couple of other times over the summer when we picked up produce at the Farmers' Market, and all three girls cleaned their plates. The simple combination of potatoes, sweet onions, smoked sausage, and green beans makes for a tasty dinner. The fact that it can be prepped and put in the crockpot in under 10 minutes is a bonus. Hearing my pickiest eater say, "I love that dinner!" when she peaks into the crockpot upon coming home from school makes this meal worthy of repeat on our family menu plan.

You can use red or white potatoes without too much variation in the overall taste. We like skinless smoked sausage, and I try to buy the turkey kind when I can. This particular batch was made with the John Morrell smoked sausage that was on sale last week for $1 each at Meijer making this a very budget friendly meal. You can use canned, frozen, or fresh green beans. If you use fresh or frozen, you may want to add just a little bit of water to the pot (1/3 cup or so).

We like to pair this dinner with sweet fresh fruit and bread or corn muffins. Some fresh corn on the cob would be a great accompaniment if you can still get your hands on some fresh corn from the fields or thought ahead to flash freeze some for your freezer.

Here's the recipe:

Summer Harvest Crock Pot Dinner

1-2 tsp olive oil
8-10 small red or white potatoes, cut into halves or quarters
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 sweet onion, cut into chunks and separated into pieces (about 1/3 cup)
1 1/2 lbs smoked sausage, cut into chunks
3 cups of green beans (2 cans, 1 bag of frozen)

1. Drizzle 1-2 tsp of olive oil in bottom of crock pot.
2. Place potatoes in bottom of crock pot.
3. Sprinkle with salt.
4. Place onion chunks on top of potatoes.
5. Place sausage on top of onion.
6. Place green beans on top of sausage. (drained if using canned)
(Pour water over the top if using frozen or fresh, about 1/3 cup)
7. Put lid on and cook on low 3-4 hours until potatoes are tender.

Serve straight out of crock pot or separate into different serving bowls.

Summer Harvest Crock Pot Dinner
Add some fresh corn on the cob and garden tomatoes,
and this is the perfect summertime garden harvest meal!

What's your favorite Summer Harvest Meal?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ham and Cheese Sliders

Sliders have become quite the rage in the last few years making appearances on chain restaurant menus, cooking magazines, and many food blogs. While I'm not a fan of slider from White Castle, I do enjoy making different sandwich sliders for my family. I especially love when I find the package of those cute little buns on Manager Special at Kroger for under 75 cents! One time, I found them for 39 cents. I picked up 3 packages and put them in my freezer. We have Quick Bite Sandwich Night once a week, and I can always find something yummy to slap between those two little circles of bread.

I came across this recipe from Janelle at Comfy in the Kitchen last spring. Like me, Janelle enjoys making ministry meals, meals she takes to families in need. This is one of her favorite recipes because it can be made ahead, is easily transportable, reheats wonderfully, and pleases eaters of all sorts.

I've altered her original recipe slightly to fit our tastes and budget. I made these several times over the summer, and they've been a big hit around our table. I love that this recipe can be made ahead and then baked right before serving. They're perfect for a company lunch, a weekend gathering, or a simple dinner.  The secret to these little sandwiches is the sweet, savory sauce that you pour over the top after you make the sandwiches. When they bake, the sauce coats the sandwich and you're left with a finger licking delight! Pair with a simple green salad and some fruit, and you've got a real winner!

With kids, I like the smaller slider bun/dinner roll size. You could also make them on hamburger buns or even hot dog buns if that's what you have. They would also be really good on those little Hawaiian rolls, but those can be a bit more expensive.

I thought I had a photo of these from earlier in the summer, but I can't seem to find it right now. Click on Janelle's link up above, and you can see her finished product. Take some time to look around on her site, too. She has some really yummy family friendly recipes.

Here's the recipe:

Ham and Cheese Sliders (small version, enough for one family)

1 package of 12 slider rolls (or dinner rolls) - look for Manager Special items
1/2 - 3/4  pound deli ham, sliced thin (Prepackaged or fresh from deli counter)
1/4 pound swiss cheese, sliced thin
4 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp yellow mustard

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

3 Tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp poppy seeds


1.       Make sandwiches on buns. (I like to put cheese on top and bottom with ham in the middle; kids can also help assemble these if you like help in the kitchen)

2.       Place sandwiches in a greased 9x13 pan.

3.       In a small saucepan, bring butter, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and poppy seeds to a soft boil.

4.       Pour sauce over the tops of the sandwiches.

5.       Cover pan with foil.

6.       Bake for 20-30 minutes at 350.



Ham and Cheese Sliders (the Full Version, makes a full cookie sheet’s worth of sandwiches; great for a party/guests)

2 pkg slider rolls or dinner rolls (24 in all)

1 lb. deli ham

½ lb swiss cheese

¾ stick butter

2 Tbsp mustard

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar

2 tsp poppy seeds
1. Make sandwiches on buns. (I like to put cheese on top and bottom with ham in the middle; kids can also help assemble these if you like help in the kitchen)

2. Place sandwiches on a greased baking tray/cookie sheet with sides

3. In a small saucepan, bring butter, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and poppy seeds to a soft boil.

4. Pour sauce over the tops of the sandwiches.

5. Cover pan with foil.

6. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 350.
What's your favorite way to use those cute little slider buns?


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Menu Planning

Well, I received one comment on my MIA post, so I know at least one person is actually reading what I write out there!

The comment was for me to explain a little bit about Menu Planning.

Well, here's what works for me. I've been doing menu planning for years in a variety of ways, but I will give you some tips on what I think will work to help you get started if you're new to menu planning for your family.

First, I would advise to take BABY STEPS. . . . Over time, menu planning gets easier and pretty soon it just becomes a way of life. For me, it's hard to imagine going into a week without a menu plan because it just makes life easier on so many levels. But like learning any new skill, it does take some time to get it to come naturally.  Just take a few baby steps at a time. You'll get it.

Baby Step #1
Figure out what meals your family will eat without too much complaining. Write a list of them down. Try bringing up the topic one night at the dinner table and jot down ideas while the family lists off their favorites. You'll be amazed at what they say. You'll find that you do make quite a few things that the family already enjoys.

Baby Step #2
Plan 2 weeks worth of meals. To start, I would suggest using some sort of theme method. For example, have a Chicken Night, a Sandwich Night, a Breakfast for Dinner Night, a Pizza Night, a Pasta Night, a Crock Pot Night, etc. Start with 7 different themes. See if you can plug in any of the family favorites on that list. You now have 14 meals you know you can serve and the family will eat without complaining. That's a huge accomplishment. You can continue to add meals to this list and refer back to it in the weeks ahead.

When I first started menu planning, I went with a general list like this. I did not necessarily know what night we were eating what meal, but I knew that I wanted to fix chicken and noodles, tacos, spaghetti, etc. If cooking is not your thing, go with things you know how to fix well and things you know your family will eat. There will be time for recipe experimentation later on.

You can round out your meals with salad and fruit. I don't always plan out exactly what fruit and salad we will have, but we always have fruit and some sort of green salad with our meals. Just concentrate on planning the main dish/side dish to get you started.

I also always have some sort of dessert planned. It's not usually fancy. We eat a lot of ice cream around our house. But the kids really look forward to having dessert nightly. About once a week I do try to make something more traditional - like brownies, cookies, cake, etc. - if I have time or if the kids ask to help me bake something.

Baby Step #3
Take inventory of what you already have in the freezer and pantry. What can you make on that list of 14 favorites that you already have the ingredients for? What ingredients are you missing in order to be able to make those 14 dishes? Make a list of the things that you need. If you come across items in your pantry that you have no idea what to do with, donate them to a Food Pantry or set them aside and try to find a recipe to use them in the upcoming weeks. Do not just stuff them back into your pantry.

Baby Step #4
Set a grocery budget and try really hard to stick to it. Using cash helps. We are able to eat very well for $100 a week. That might not be the case for you. You might have more to spend, or you might have to squeeze by on less. I love the challenge of using coupons. I know that the thought of using coupons freaks out many other people. You can still eat well even without coupons. Come up with whatever number works for you and learn to work with that number.

Baby Step #5
Browse the store weekly circular ads and make a list of needed items for the 14 meals that you want to make. Hopefully some of the needed items will be on sale. We have not had the most reliable delivery of our grocery ads with the paper. That frustrates me so much! Ads are also available online, but I prefer the paper kind.  I spend a few minutes looking at the ads when they come. Then I spend about 20 minutes looking at it more carefully a little bit later when I'm ready to make my list.

We're lucky because we have a choice when it comes to which store I visit during the week. I try to just pick one major store a week and do my shopping there. Trying to hit all the stores is just too time consuming. I like Kroger over Meijer, but only because it seems to take me forever to get through Meijer because the store is so big and the checkout is so slow. Plus I always end up putting more things in my cart than are on my list. The prices for non-sale items are higher at Kroger, but I do a better job of sticking to the list of sale items. I also have quite a few things that I regularly stock up on at Aldi. I can make a quick stop at Aldi and pick up what I need without having to worry about having coupons. The trick with shopping at Aldi is that the store is filled with all kinds of processed foods that are easy to toss into your cart. Those prepackaged items, even if they are cheaper than what you can get namebrand, still add up quickly. 

To keep your budget down, you need to buy items that you use often (like the ones for your top 14 family favorite meals) when they go on sale. For example, last week Kroger had Smart Taste Pasta for 49 cents a box. I bought 10 boxes. I know that I will be able to make use of them in the coming months because pasta is a meal that my family will eat without complaining. I will vary the sauces that we eat, but I know we will eat pasta 10 times in the next few months. The price will go back up to $1.59 or more next week, so it was a good time to stock up.

If you can match a coupon with an instore special, that's even better! There are several websites that list grocery store and coupon match ups. A couple of my favorites are Stretching a Buck and 4 Our 2 Cents. Both are written by Columbus area women. You can sign up for their daily e-mail blog updates or just visit their sites. I have my own system of using coupons, but I don't think it's the most efficient way. It works for me. If you decide to use coupons, you'll find what works for you.

Baby Step #6
Go to the store with a prepared list. Because I have browsed the store ads and I have made a list of meals that I want to make, I am able to go through the store and stick pretty much to my list. I buy almost exclusively the weekly store specials unless it is something we absolutely need and must have at that exact shopping moment. For example, we are all out of butter. Butter has not been on sale for several weeks, so I have to pay full price for butter because I need butter to make several things on our menu that week.

I shop with a list that has our menu on the bottom and my shopping list on top. I can check to make sure I have everything I need to fix the meals on my menu plan as I'm going through the store. My shopping list is divided into sections (produce, cereals, dry goods, canned goods, etc) I put all my coupons that match the items on my list in an envelope. Having the list and the coupons pulled out ahead of time helps me stick to my list and to stay on task.

One of the ways that I have been able to expand our weekly menu items and keep our budget down is to always keep an eye out for Manager Special stickers. These orange stickered items are often greatly reduced. Sometimes I luck out and the Manager Special items will actually be items I need to make the meals on my list. Sometimes they will not. If the item is something I can freeze and use later, I will pick it up and then add it into my next rotation of meals.

Try to refrain from just throwing items into your cart because they look so good. I'm especially bad about this in the chip and ice cream aisle. Restraint from this area will result in lower grocery bills and hopefully lower numbers on the scale!

Baby Step #7
Put all the groceries away when you get home. You'll have a sense of accomplishment that you have everything you need for 2 weeks of meals. Freeze what needs to go into the freezer. Just about everything can be put in the freezer. Organize the items you put into the pantry and the frig. If you have time, clean your fruits and veggies so they are ready to use. (except berries. . . I wash berries as we use them so they don't get slimy)

Baby Step #8
Hang your menu plan where you will see it daily. I hang mine on the frig. There's no need to panic about what to make for dinner. You've got it all right there in front of you. It's okay you don't know exactly what day you're making what. You know what you have available to make, and that's a big first step. Yea you!

Baby Step #9
Figure out at least one day ahead what you'll make for dinner the next night from your list of 14 meals.  Take a look at your list as you finish cleaning up dinner and figure out what will work for tomorrow night's dinner. Get the supplies gathered. Take anything out of the freezer that needs to thaw. Make sure you still have everything you need. For example, make sure you still have enough cheese to put on top of the pizza and that someone else didn't see the cheese in the drawer and decide to make nachos for a late night snack while you were out at a meeting.

Baby Step #10
Fix dinner confidently and enjoy time around the table with the ones you love. Mealtimes are precious. The kids are growing up so fast and research states family mealtimes are key to a child's overall wellbeing. Cook with confidence and love and it will come through in what you serve on the table.

There are lots of other helpful websites that give more indepth tutorials about menu planning. Here are a couple of my favorites if you want to do a little more research.

I'll do another post about some steps you can take after you've done these BABY STEPS. If you're new to menu planning, just start small. That's my advice. You can fine tune as you go along, but just start somewhere.

So. . . what's for dinner at your house tonight?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Turkey Bacon Cheeseburger Sliders

No finished product picture for this post, but these little mini burgers were just too tasty and too easy to pass up on sharing the recipe with you!

I purchase this package of Kraft Fresh Take last week using a coupon for under $1.

I mixed it with a pound of ground turkey I bought on sale and about 1/4 cup of honey bbq sauce.

I made 12 mini size patties to go on top of the mini slider buns I found on Manager Special at Kroger for 49 cents. (Remember to make a thumbprint indentation in the center of the patty so they don't puff up in the middle as your grill them).

John grilled the patties for about 12-15 minutes, and we placed them on the mini slider buns. We topped them with fresh tomato and lettuce and a little bit more bbq sauce. They were delcious! The 8 year old ate as much as Daddy!

If you're looking for a tasty Labor Day grill idea, this would be a sure fire winner!

This was my second time buying the Fresh Takes. I did not care for the recipe on the package the first time; it tasted very artificial/processed. Mixing the bread crumbs and cheese in with the meat and bbq sauce was much better. It gave the meat just the right amount of flavor and moisture. It was a very easy dinner to throw together in just a few minutes of prep time.

Have you tried any of the Fresh Take recipes?

MIA. . . . . The Queen is Back!

It's been a long time since my last post. . .. .

Too long. . . .

So long that I kind of got out of the blogging groove.

It's time to get back into the groove.

Let me catch you up on a few things that have been happening around here, no particular order of significance. Just a few things as they pop into my head, and the 3 year old is playing Polly Pockets quietly in the family room.

1. Summer was great!
I so enjoyed having the girls at home all day, despite the bickering that 3 girls can do. We made many fun memories, saw lots of friends and family, and tried our best to stay cool during the hot, dry days!  We loved the pool, VBS, vacations, movies, crossing items off our Summer Buckets Lists, playdates, and eating popsicles daily.

2. My freezer is well stocked with summer produce!
Despite the drought and the heat, I managed to take advantage of lots of summer produce at the farmers' markets. I froze lots of strawberries, peaches, blueberries, blackberries, zucchini, beans, and corn. I love having these items to use throughout the cold weather months.

3. I read a lot of books this summer!
My bookshelf was full all summer long with a wide variety of titles. I tried to squeeze in lots of reading while we were on vacation and in the evenings. While I prefer to read outside in the warm weather, it was so stinkin' hot this year, I spent most of my evenings in the AC on the couch. I was quite inspired by The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. I realized how many women (and men) really want to become better cooks, but they just don't know how or where to start. It got me to thinking about how I might be able to inspire others to take baby steps to becoming more confident in their own kitchens. I also read up on food blogging, food photography, Facebook, and Twitter trying to decide what direction this blog might take in the future.

4. I joined the Pampered Chef Team as a Consultant!
I have attended many Pampered Chef parties over the years and feel they do make quality products. After much prayer and discernment, I was inspired to join the team in late July.  I have had lots of fun learning more about PC products and trying out lots of PC recipes. I'm specializing in Cooking Shows that feature budget friendly, easy to fix, family favorite meals. I'm using many PC recipes, but also some of my own. I've had 4 parties so far, and I hope to continue to do 4 parties a month. I may be blogging a bit about these experiences, too.

5. The girls are back in school!
Three girls, three schools, three schedules. It's going to be a challenge this year! Menu planning and easy meals are key to keeping my sanity!  I can't believe how quickly they have grown up. My oldest is 6th grade, the middle one 3rd grade, the baby is in preschool! Seriously. .. where did the time go? I'm often reminded of the wisdom of a mentor mom many years ago, "These days are long, but the years are short." I'm grateful for these exhausting days. Cooking helps me stay focused and is a creative outlet for me.

6. My pantry is organized and inventoried!
My first task of the school year was to clean out my kitchen junk drawer. Too many times over the summer the kitchen island got cluttered, so I did the ol' "dump it all in the junk drawer before the doorbell rings" a few too many times. I found all kinds of odds and ends. That inspired me to then move on from the junk drawer to our other cabinets, kitchen pantry, and mudroom pantry. I am proud to say I didn't find anything too out of date, but I did find a couple of things I had forgotten about. I also made a list of the items I need to restock in my pantry so that I can put together meals easily on busy nights (boxes of pasta, etc). We did a good job of eating up what we had over the summer, so it's time for a couple of big stock up trips in the next few weeks.

7. I've been experimenting with some different bread recipes.
I still have not perfected bread the way I had hoped to. I read just last week on another blog that it's possible to make the Artisan Bread in the crock pot! I tried it last week; not completely satisfied with the results, so I'll keep testing and keep you posted. I still want to learn how to make good, easy sandwich bread.

8. Our goal for the coming school year is to sit down for dinner nightly as a family.
I've plugged in all the dates on the calendar for the upcoming school year, and it looks like we'll still be able to manage having dinner together nightly. We have a couple evenings where we may only 4 of us around the table (my middle daughter will be at gymnastics over the dinner hour), but I have a few ideas in mind so that she can eat what we're eating either before or after practice.

9. Our goal is to spend around $100 a week for groceries for the 5 of us.
We went to an all cash grocery budget in January, and most weeks it's very doable to get us all well fed for under $100 if I watch the in store specials and use coupons. I still put very processed foods into our cart, although those potato chips and ice cream seem to make their way into our cart every week! Having a well stocked freezer and pantry helps. This could not be possible without a weekly/monthly menu plan. I don't always stick to it 100%. Flexibility is key, but having a plan helps immensely.

10. I have organized many of my recipes.
One of the goals to starting this blog in January was for me to organize my recipes. I have done that. I have only posted a handful of the recipes that I have typed into my computer and placed in my recipe binders. I like to include pictures because I know that inspires readers, but finding time to photograph every item I make is time consuming and became a bit stressful when my photo didn't turn out the way I wanted it to. I had to keep reminding myself that one of my goals was to just get the recipes organized. And that I did.

So, that's been my last several weeks of random thoughts and projects.  What about you?

What's been filling your days?

What goals do you have for the upcoming school year?

How can I help you make mealtimes/snack times/family times more enjoyable?